“I am not discussing this with you…”

by Gunter Denk

I have been living in Asia for a long time, which is why I am not surprised when friendliness is used to make up for lack of competence. At the same time, as a German, I am also not surprised when competent professionals are somewhat cold and unfriendly. 

 
Recently, as a customer of Lufthansa, it took only a short time to observe that sometimes service workers who are unfriendly also are entirely lacking in competence. However, the airline is obviously making strides to balance things via intensive communication training for its employees.
 
 As a part of this effort, much to my initial delight, I received an upgrade to first class from Etihad, Lufthansa’s new cooperation partner. I was informed both directly by airline staff as well as via email that this meant I would need to check in to Terminal 1 in Frankfurt instead of the usual Terminal 2.  This was accompanied by the horrible news that I could (or “must”!) utilize the facilities of Lufthansa’s Senator Lounge.  
 
When I arrived, it was just as I had feared: a blonde woman with too much make-up shut me down, telling me they had nothing to do with Etihad, so I should just make my way to Terminal 2, because that is where I belong. I grabbed my phone to politely confirm the changes in my itinerary and my lounge privileges, and that’s when I heard it, those magic words clearly engrained in her by diligent training: “I am not discussing this with you!”. Etihad can put its first-class travelers wherever it pleases, “but not with us!”. “You are welcome to complain to this woman’s superior,” another member of the Lufthansa team snapped at me from the side, “his name is Mr. Braun. And you’re looking right at him.” I gave up. It is hopeless when it’s 2 against 1, even when you are in the right.    
 
I decided to give it another go in the LH Business Lounge. They greeted me in standard fashion and, despite not being familiar with the new policy changes, they were nice enough to look it up and then confirm that the cooperation was indeed valid. They even offered to let me stay in that lounge, as I was not so excited about heading back to the Senator Lounge and starting a new battle with the dynamic duo.
 
A week later, I witnessed Lufthansa’s strategy of “making up for incompetence with gruffness” yet again. During takeoff, a passenger sitting next to me had his iPad in his hand but in airplane mode, as advised. This required the immediate intervention of a cartoonishly stout stewardess, though thankfully no water cannons were needed. The iPad needed to go in the overhead compartment due to its excessive size. The passenger responded timidly that Lufthansa permits iPads during takeoff as long as they are in airplane mode, also mentioning he was a frequent traveler with the airline and had never had problems before.   
 
And then there it was again, that well-practiced sentence: “I am not discussing this with you. Put it in the overhead compartment now! If you don’t believe me, read the regulations on page 7 of your boarding instructions.” I like to jump on the bandwagon of the winning side, so I ran up to her emphatically and began to chew out my neighbour vigorously, “Don’t mess with this lady! You can clearly see she has been working in the economy class of short-distance flights for Lufthansa for at least 25 years. There is no arguing there!” The flight attendant was beginning to quake.

After the reprimanded passenger finally dared to show the guards the cited page 72, according to which iPads are permitted as articles weighing less than 1 kg (an iPad weighs about 700 g), they answered him with, you guessed it, that same old “I am not discussing this with you”, followed by, “how should I know how much it weighs?”
 
With a light tone of Viennese cynicism, another observer asked me if I knew the difference between a Lufthansa stewardess and a German shepherd. He then answered his own question, “the only difference is the lipstick”. Ouch, that was mean.  
 
In any case, thanks to these experiences, I will be avoiding Lufthansa whenever I can. And I will not be discussing it with them!

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